There are certain places that capture the spirit of a time, a scene, a person you want to be. Of all the places where Tulum has something to make your head spin. This is my first visit to Mexico and I discovered Tulum when a friend suggested I go there with the promise of a spectacular stay, fabulous food, white sand and the jungle in the background – 100% convinced. So let me make it clear, if you are looking for advice on exploring the ruins of Tulum, swimming in the Tulum caves, snorkelling in the nearby Cenotes, visiting the Sian Ka’an biosphere, spending a day at the Spa and Maya Spa – this article is not for you. This is the story of an art of living where the goal is to do nothing.
An arrival in another world
People like me coming to Tulum, Mexico for the first time can’t believe that the place is only an hour away from the Cancun spring break festivities. On the one hand, the relaxed beaches, luxury hotels and gourmet restaurants that attract fashion connoisseurs. Don’t expect the Four Seasons; Tulum has its own brand of glamour, no skyscrapers or chandeliers, but beauty linked to the environment. On the other hand, a town/village with its main avenue, typical restaurants, bars and restaurants would love to live here.
I drive through the streets of downtown Tulum in the stifling heat, my attention is lost between all its brightly painted posadas, her teenagers munching on ground pork tacos, its cases of Fanta glass. It is true that as soon as I arrived I felt disconnected and relaxed. Even after several hours of flying.
What is its story?
And to think that about 65 million years ago, a vast tyranosaur-killer asteroid hit this part of Mexico. There is something still a bit stellar about Tulum. The history of this part of Mexico says a lot about where it stands today. Nearby, overlooking the Caribbean, are the ruins of what was once a small town during the last decades of the Mayan civilization, trading in turquoise when the Spaniards arrived in the 1520s, bringing the plague during 70 years.
After that, no one showed up much until a handful of North American hippies, in the 1970s, armed themselves with backpacks and tools to cut through the jungle to the beach. . Big game fishermen followed, staying in the only lodge near the lagoons. In the 1980s it was still relatively quiet, just campers and divers, and Pablo Escobar would take refuge from time to time in a white-framed villa tucked into thickets of gnarled trees. In the 1990s, Tulum’s reputation grew. With photographers and fashion people, yoga bunnies and gypsetters, cute kids making necklaces or opening beach huts made out of bullfighting leaves and a bunch of ropes. Everyone was happy to be here. For one of the most beautiful and longest beaches in the world; for the fresh mango and orange juices mixed by pretty girls in leather skirts and buzzcuts; for the simple and discreet pleasures of the place. But it was precisely what made Tulum so special – no big hotels, no brands, no chains – that was also the cause of its vulnerability. Endless land ownership disputes erupted when 16 properties, including Coqui Coqui, perhaps the best-known small hotel on the beach, were shelved.
My first feelings
And yet, in any case, the rising tide seems inevitable. Beautiful Portuguese stringed guitars on the steps of the shops along the beach road selling dream catchers and Dom Perignon. Instagram girls in make-up like Sita Bellan walking around, limbs tanned with Cape Cod nutmeg clambacks. Newcomers come here to connect. Fashionable people recognizable at first glance with their space outfits. Western men wear well-cut beards. Few people wear harem trousers (this is a myth). No! Girls only have a shaved head on one side and braids on the other that crumble into brushstrokes. Millionaire art collectors and eco-entrepreneurs are launching fancy hotels modelled on medieval Persian caravans and Tolkian halls, which unfold along the seemingly endless and sparkling expanse. Ok so, Michael enters his orbit.
Everything is off-road. You are either on the beach or on the other side of the world. That’s it. It’s simple.
In Tulum there are several possibilities to get around, obviously by renting a very practical car, also to make some excursions in the area. But beware, independence comes at a price. The bicycle is a sure value, I advise you to take it with a basket and removable handlebars like the Harleys. Of course, the scooter, but beware of greedy renters who ask for a too high deposit. Finally the taxi, you have to be patient because it is often at the head of the “gringo”. No meter for the journey, little negotiation. Clearly, your journey from the city centre to the beach or vice versa should not exceed 150 pesos.
On the beach side (Hotel Zone)
In the hotel zone, as all along this grandiose beach, tropical dawn comes at a dazzling speed, the darkness thinning through the soft pink to become blue like a floating wisteria. You have to get up early so you don’t miss the moment. Brown pelicans come out patrolling the waves like examination observers, diving from time to time to catch a fish – and they always do; the seas are full.
I try to get up early, just before dawn – the sunrises on Tulum beach are the best in the world – and then I go for a run or a swim. The fishermen here don’t care much about the boats, they just wade through the water with nets for grouper and snapper, or spears for the elegant boquinete, which ends up pouting on Tulum’s barbecues, the crisp skin of an opalescent pink.
Breakfast is for me a real moment of assumed solitude. No one should disturb me at this moment, not even the waiter who is in a hurry to empty the table. The service here is like the ghost of the Leutasch Gorge, it doesn’t exist. In short, I’m always in the right place. I take comfort in the fact that on the way to the beach I pick up a juice of romaine and parsley, which I hear is “food for the soul of the planet”.
WHERE TO STAYHOTEL Casa Malca I DOUBLE ROOM ABOUT €692 I CHECK AVAILABILITY
Reported to be drug baron Pablo Escobar’s former hideaway, now a cool, luxurious, beachfront boutique hotel filled with intriguing artworks from Colombian owner/New York art dealer Lio Malca’s personal collection…
With the light comes the first of pretty people. A fashion photographer friend, used to perfecting flesh, told me that even he bleached the sparkling beauties of Tulum – alternative culture seekers, Burning-Man-Balearic-boho meets Ojai Diamonds, a gang of Stevie Nicks- a-likes browned with soft faces doing yoga at dawn in the waterfront space of the Casa Malca hotel that seems to float above the sand. All of the older men look like Jeff Bridges in the 1976 King Kong, with fuzzy white hair and bangles, lots of bangles.
WHERE TO STAYhotel nÔmade I DOUBLE ROOM ABOUT €392 I CHECK AVAILABILITY
Cabanas and beach tents, Berber rugs and silver-beaten plates – this hotel feels as if it has been constructed out of things spilled from a camel train. It’s like a village unwound on the sand, only one made from gauzy hangings and partitions… A real experience!
A man peels prickly pears for passers-by as if carefully opening a pile of presents. Then I could stop by a cafe – like The Real Coconut at the Hotel Nômade, which makes its own almond milk – for a latte. After rolling out of the hammocks, a bunch of girls with tanned skin like dry earth head for a spot to take Instagram photos & co. and also in search of a hangover cure, Raw Love is where they will find both.
WHERE TO EATRAW LOVE CAFÉ I International FOOD, Healthy I €€
The best smoothies bowls to enjoy with your feet in the sand. Zen atmosphere in the middle of trees hammock and beach sofas nearby fresh products. Vegetarians welcome, Vegan choices, Gluten free dishes Taste the sky!
At 11 a.m., hotel cabins and daybeds were set up on the beach, which is wide and long enough to never feel full. Most of the buildings are single storey and discreet in wood and thatch: a Gilligan Island, only with ice slamming. Snatches of intriguing conversations after the hour of mindfulness float towards me: “This is a woo-woo thing”; “I am much more interested in the question than in the answer”; and most intriguing, “ after that night in Harlem with Cher… I put on my headphones to escape. Especially since it’s almost lunchtime.
WHERE TO EATHartwood i RESTAURANT i hartwoodtulum.com i €€€€
The wood-fired restaurant became the buzz of Tulum when it opened in 2010, using the familiar principles of seasonality and locavorism that chef Eric Werner honed for over a decade in New York City…
Traveling to Mexico in the 1920s, DH Lawrence wrote that the country “ has its own physical scent, like every human being … ” In Tulum, this scent comes from the specific resin of a Mayan tree burned for rituals of purification of the spirit. . Not as pungent as incense, it can be very subtle, as if discreetly detected on a wrist or neck, something akin to white cloves mixed with tobacco. It comes and goes with the breeze, as the morning thickens and iguanas emerge from behind sprays of wild yellow flowers to bask in the sun.
Afternoons in the hotel zone are not much alike. It’s a matter of establishing a precise schedule between the bar, the swimming pool and the beach promenade, and since it’s hot, I usually collapse on the sand, sometimes rising like smoke in the breeze. Through a few trees I can see what a campsite looks like – there are a few left here, remnants from when it was really a word-of-mouth destination for travellers. The dust-like white sand stretches towards the end of the peninsula in a blindingly perfect crescent. While someone hangs a bikini to dry on a hammock woven of green vines, Chopin plays on a small radio. But all music seems incongruous. All the news and world events remind me that I am not in real life.
WHERE TO SHOPMr. Blackbird I SHOP I www.mrblackbird.com I €€€
The boutique offers some of the town’s most interesting local pieces, but thankfully the crochet bags, copper jewelry, and agate rings are things you’d be proud to wear long after vacation is over…
Night falls spellbinding speed, the road suddenly full of men coming out of a day’s work in the jungle, waiting for vans, massaging their feet and eating the fleshy mamey fruit scarlet. There is no mains electricity here. (Although for a while in the 1980s, Escobar resolutely routed city pylons to his home through thick jungle, like Fitzcarraldo dragging a boat through Peru. They are still standing, long gone.) Instead, hotels use generators, many switch on in the evenings when everything is beautifully lit by fires and candles: the brilliantly splashed VW Beetles parked outside; vintage American cars with fish fins; shops selling fringed dresses and bags of pearls, all lantern-lit in the last rays of rosy twilight.
Now start the mixing. Americans, Argentines, Spaniards. A tide of perfect tans in Penny Lane caftans, sun-kissed honeymooners, golden reunion gangs and birthday parties, all leaned against each other and brewing cocktails. Actor Joel Edgerton, his basket full of wine bottles, cycles by in a wind-torn straw hat. The paths zig-zag past the bars through dark groves of trees and fountain-shaped leaf shoots in a dense jungle. A primitive darkness continues.
WHERE TO EATBAGATELLE TULUM I RESTAURANT i WWW.bagatelletulum.com I €€€
Renowned for its rebellious spirit, Bagatelle has, since its creation, revived the splendid years of the “French Riviera” in the four corners of the world, through an inimitable art of living and an exclusive experience worthy of the greatest institutions…
Later, back at the Hotel Nômade, with its central party hall built as a retreat for a Boromir on a world tour, there are Moroccan and Chinese brass bands, and a band playing covers of Radiohead – the kind of band that always makes a Seal song sound cool. All the girls wear Valentino dresses cut off at the thighs and swing in the shadows, giving the singer a hard, appreciative and sexy look, a dead ringer for Dennis Wilson on his Pacific Ocean Blue album.
Around midnight, the sky is full of low stars, so bright that it feels like you are in a vineyard and you could pick one. The group packs its bags and the girls are so comfortable that it feels like the sand is a lilo warmed by the sun. That evening I’ll end up somewhere in a beach party for a frenetic electro mix. Tomorrow, direction the city.
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